Before you are allowed to drive this vehicle, they give you a bad haircut. Then you are put through a survival-training course where you learn that insects are a great source of protein and dodging bullets is just another day at the office. Only once you have signed your life away, are you handed the keys to this vehicle.
You see, this is not just another vehicle. It’s not an SUV or a truck. It’s an Iveco LMV or Light Multirole Vehicle and it’s a war machine. It’s been designed to help the good guys kill the bad guys while protecting the good guys from the bad guys.
This 4WD tactical vehicle was developed by Iveco’s Defence Vehicle Division. Apart from Italy, Belgium, the UK, Spain, Norway, the Czech Republic and Croatia too have inducted the Iveco LMV into their armies.
The red Iveco LMV before me is one of the very few that’s not painted in regulation army camouflage. Part of Ferrari’s Magic India Discovery Tour in 2008, it was a support vehicle for the two 612 Scagliettis that did the 11,000km loop of India. Evidently Fiat, owner of both Ferrari and Iveco, had organised the Magic India Discovery Tour on a war footing!
Under the LMV’s massive bonnet is a 186bhp three-litre, direct-injection, common-rail Iveco turbo-diesel engine. This is connected to a six-speed automatic gearbox with a hydrodynamic torque converter and a two-speed transfer box mounted in common with the rear axle differential.
We are at Autocar India’s top-secret off-road track somewhere outside Mumbai. Behind the wheel of the Iveco is Giovanni. With his handlebar moustache, he looks every bit an Italian army colonel (which he is not). He is the man who clocked the 11,000km on the Iveco’s odometer on the Magic India Discovery Tour.
In front of us is a hill with a gradient so staggering, it’s difficult to stand upright. Our photographer clambers up the hill on all fours with his camera. Since photographers are notorious for going to extremes for that perfect shot, I am more than a bit worried about the Iveco’s safety. At the base of the hill is a 200-foot drop. If the vehicle starts sliding backwards, it’s going to be a disaster.
But I needn’t have worried. Giovanni engages low ratio, locks the differentials and the LMV crawls up the slope to stop in front of the camera. Start, stop, reverse, the LMV can do all that on this slope. No sweat.
The shots are done and I get my opportunity. It’s my lucky day. I escape the bad haircut and get my hands on the Iveco’s keys. Since I don’t want to earn the distinction of rolling the Iveco down 200 feet, I opt for the easier section of the track. Relatively speaking. The track is a half-kilometre, boulder-strewn loop. You couldn’t go a hundred yards in an ordinary car without busting something. But this is no ordinary car.
I climb into the left seat. Wrapped around the driver’s seat is a binnacle of black plastic, with panels of lamps and switches for the various functions this vehicle is capable of. Since time is short, I leave the switches alone. I know where the accelerator is and what it does; that’s enough.
I prod the accelerator and the seven-tonne vehicle takes off with a rapidity that belies its weight. We are rattling along a boulder-strewn path but the ride is comfortable. The steering is accurate and direct, and helps you place the vehicle as and where you want to. There’s some body roll, but it’s pretty well-controlled. In the Iveco, you don’t go around the boulders, you go over them. Keep your foot on the accelerator, keep a light touch on the steering and the vehicle takes the drama out of the whole experience. For all I know I could be driving a Camry on a potholed road. This is no fun.
So I squeeze down on the accelerator pedal. The transmission shifts down two gears and the engine roars. I am glad that the four-point harness has me tied down securely. The speed and agility of this behemoth is addictive, as it shrugs off the surface, spitting rocks from under its tyres.
By the way, these are run-flat tyres. Since changing a flat with the enemy firing at you is not exactly an appealing idea, the Iveco is equipped with a run-flat system, which allows the vehicle to move even with completely deflated tyres.
For once I am not worried about damaging a vehicle. I don’t think I could, even if I tried. This thing is designed to survive landmines. The LMV has a V-hull underbody, and a collapsible sandwich structure in the floor to deflect and absorb mine blasts. So what I’m putting it through is kid-stuff.
But this vehicle has been engineered with a higher purpose than merely offering off-road joyrides. It’s been designed to protect its crew. Yes, modern safety standards are pretty stringent, but this is in another class altogether. While other cars have active safety measures like ABS, the Iveco’s active safety features save you from missiles, among other things. The hot parts of the vehicle are kept out of sight, to present a smaller target for any heat-seeking missile. Its turbocharger is located beneath the engine to reduce its thermal signature. The disc brakes sit inboard, next to the differentials rather than in the wheels. Even the exhausts run down the centre spine inside chassis rails which curve upwards at each end.
Did I begin by saying that you have to enlist in the army to drive this vehicle? There’s a tiny glimmer of hope for the well-heeled enthusiast. Fiat displayed an unarmoured civilian version —the Oltre — at the Bologna Motor Show in 2003. Problem is, with a packed order book from armed forces across Europe, you would have to make a very special case to get your hands on this impressive piece of machinery. It might be simpler to join the army.